Saddle Shoes: The Two-Tone Classic That Took 40 Years To Get Popular
Close-up of the feet of a student in a saddle shoes and a plaid skirt outside Oakland High School, Oakland, Calfornia, 1950. Source: (Photo by Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
The classic black and white saddle shoes are a symbol of the 1950s bobby-soxers, but did you know that the icon footwear actually debuted in the 1920s? These shoes, adapted from a style popular among golfers of the 1910s, were intended for men. However, women quickly took to the shoe style because it was viewed as masculine and sporty—two things that 1920s women wanted to be. Although the saddle shoe enjoyed steady sales throughout the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, it wasn’t until the 1950s that the shoe reached the pinnacle of its popularity. Let’s look at the rise of the iconic saddle shoe.
Men’s loafer of previous decades got a jazzy facelift in the 1920s. It was during this time that we see the emergence of wingtips and oxfords. The two-toned saddle shoe was supposed to be a crisp, stylish men’s shoe, but women found it more appealing. The Roaring Twenties was a time when women were pushing for more and more gender equality and were ridding themselves of what they viewed as shackles of prior feminine oppression. Women were wearing trousers, cutting their hair short, and binding their breasts to make them appear flat-chested. It only made sense that they should wear men’s footwear too.
Sales of saddle shoes dipped during the Great Depression, but the shoe style was still popular enough to remain in business. Manufacturers sought cheaper materials from which to make the shoes, so leather and rubber gave way to canvas and crepe rubber. The crepe rubber soles were not only cheap, but they were more comfortable, more durable, and provided more traction than the previous saddle shoes. It was also during that 1930s that the color scheme of saddle shoes broadened from the plain black and white to tan and white and blue and white.
Businessmen of the 1940s often wore two-tones loafers and women wanted to follow suit. It was teenaged girls, however, that sparked the saddle shoes rise to fame. Most young women grew up wearing saddle shoes. As young adults, they opted to continue wearing the shoes out of comfort and familiarity. The saddle shoes give a more youthful appearance than the peep-toe pumps the grown-up women were wearing. By the end of the decade, the saddle shoe was the number one shoe worn by teen girls and the trend was to wear them scuffed and dirty.
Crisp, clean saddle shoes, now made with red rubber soles, continued to be part of the teen girl wardrobe of the 1950s. Unlike the 1940s, the trend in the fifties was to keep your saddle shoes as clean as possible. Part of a girl’s daily ritual was to clean and polish her saddle shoes. Saddle shoes were a perfect accessory to poodle skirts but also looked good with blue jeans. The shoes were worn with bobby-socks, ankle high socks that folded down. The look was so widespread that teen girls of the 1950s became known as bobbysoxers. Because saddle shoes were so comfortable, most housewives wore them while doing chores around the house. Then, at five o’clock, they slipped into a pair of heels in time for their husband to arrive home from work. Most husbands assumed their wives wore heels all day.
Saddle Shoes and Gym Class
It seems laughable today that the saddle shoe would be allowed in gym class, but in the 1950s, it was the shoe that most girls wore while playing sports. The rubber sole was slip-resistant, so they were well-suited for the types of sports girls played in the 1950s—tennis, golf, and cheerleading. In fact, saddle shoes remained a part of girls’ cheerleading uniforms until well into the 1980s.
The 1960s was a decade of rebellion. Teens and young adults were eager to forge their own path and balked at the traditions of their parents. The saddle shoe fell victim to this trend. The iconic black and white shoe were now seen as a symbol of the establishment that the '60s teens were rebelling against. The popularity of the saddle shoe dropped drastically.
Today, Saddle Shoes are Only for Costumes
You can still buy saddle shoes today, but they are nearly always worn as part of a 1950s costume. Although loafers and Oxford saw a momentary uptick during the preppy phase of the 1980s, the black and white saddle shoe has been left behind as a relic of the fifties.